There by Christmas: Robust VPN keeps apparel maker ahead of the fashion curve

The apparel industry, perhaps more than any other, feels the need for speed when it comes to getting new products to market. “Speed is a core competency in the fashion business,” says Fernando Gonzalez, CIO of Byer California, a San Francisco-based manufacturer of clothing that appeals primarily to teenage girls. “In just weeks a new design can go from ‘hot’ to ‘not’, and slip from the full-price rack to the closeout discounter.”<br/>

12/08/2008



The apparel industry, perhaps more than any other, feels the need for speed when it comes to getting new products to market.



“Speed is a core competency in the fashion business,” says Fernando Gonzalez, CIO of Byer California , a San Francisco-based manufacturer of clothing that appeals primarily to teenage girls. “In just weeks a new design can go from‘hot’ to ‘not’, and slip from the full-price rack to the closeout discounter.” 



Consequently, Byer must be able to push information through its supply chain in rapid, reliable fashion.



Gonzalez says it has been able to do that since adopting a virtual private network (VPN) from AT&T . The network links the company’s headquarters, design centers, showrooms, and warehouses, enabling both its manufacturing and sales groups to respond nimbly to changes in customer demand.



As Gonzalez notes, it’s vital that Byer’s designers can work closely with both customers’ buyers and Byer’s own sales teams to create compelling designs attuned to the very latest trends. Intense collaboration is required among Byer teams scattered as widely as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, and New York. Videoconferences held over the VPN are the norm, with cameras transmitting images of samples and fabrics as new designs are vetted.



Digital specifications are then dispatched, again over the VPN, to core teams of pattern makers and sewing machinists located in the company’s design centers—each center close to a warehouse that contains not only finished goods on route to customers, but stocks of raw materials.



“If it’s a rush job, we can go from a blouse design to a sample in four hours: for a dress sample, the turnaround is seven to eight hours,” says Gonzalez.




Byer California, a San Francisco-based manufacturer of clothing, uses a virtual private network to link headquarters, design centers, showrooms, and warehouses— enabling both its manufacturing and sales groups to respond nimbly to changes in customer demand.

The ability to place samples in customers’ hands at such short notice is turning out to be a competitive edge, he adds. “During Market Week in New York the big stores all come in to our office on 30th and Broadway. A customer might like a blouse sample, but feel it has too many ruffles. We can have a videoconference between New York and our designers in California, remake the garment, and ship it to New York for the following morning to see if this is what the customer wants.”



Rapid response also extends to the supply chain downstream from manufacturing. While Byer California retains a U.S.-based manufacturing operation that produces high-margin garments required in-store at relatively short notice—three weeks from design concept to store shelf, for instance—overseas factories are the main source of supply.



And for the overseas supply chain, agility is vital. Given the short shelf-life of Byer’s typical product, the usual game plan is to get a certain amount of product in the store, and then time the supply chain’s movement to pace of actual sales.



Point-of-sale data—some obtained digitally, some verbally via calls to stores—is used to fine-tune the precise rate of production and delivery of each product, thus saving Byer the markdown money that department stores receive for clothes that don’t sell at full retail price.



Just as critically, the same information can let the company see that sales are higher than expected, indicating the need to boost production while products are still in the higher-margin portion of their life cycle. In the case of unexpected material shortages, the VPN permits the use of video-conferencing, digital mock-ups, and quickly generated samples to model the effect of substitutions—a seven-inch zip fastener in place of an eight-inch fastener, for instance—until supplies of eight-inch zips are replenished.



“When I joined Byer, I was always fighting network failures,” recalls Gonzalez.

The AT&T MPLS-enabled IP VPN has not only put Byer’s core business on a firmer footing, he notes, but has added resiliency as well. Using the VPN, data is replicated at the data centers, which serve as backups for each other, and its “any-to-any” connectivity delivers the flexibility required for operations to substitute for each other in an emergency.





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